‘Media Are Unwilling to Look at Government and Say There’s Conscious Malfeasance’ – CounterSpin interview (2004) with Robert Dreyfuss on Iraq War intel

Steve Rendall interviewed Robert Dreyfuss about pre–Iraq War intelligence for the February 27, 2004, episode of CounterSpin; the interview was reaired for the March 17, 2017, edition. This is a lightly edited transcript.

 

Robert Dreyfuss (image: Kent Bye)

Robert Dreyfuss: “The idea that they were invading Iraq based on faulty intelligence has it exactly backwards. They had already decided they wanted to invade Iraq. So the intelligence was then used to justify a pre-existing policy.” (image: Kent Bye/YouTube)

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Janine Jackson: The toll of the US war on Iraq, following years of devastating sanctions, can hardly be reckoned. At least half a million people killed, millions displaced, made ill, their homes and communities destroyed, of course the political repercussions in the region, and thousands of US servicemembers killed and wounded—all of it based on falsehoods peddled to the US public by warmongering politicians enabled by the press.

After months of coverage dominated by pro-war pundits and former generals—Iraqis themselves rarely heard from—many Americans likely accepted the official story that the invaders would be welcomed as liberators in the streets of Baghdad. But vast numbers did not. Millions marched in the streets in opposition to the war before it started, but that viewpoint was sidelined and worse in corporate media, whose current rehabilitation of the author of the nightmare, George W. Bush, is only the latest sign of their eager amnesia about the role they played in leading us to an illegal war based on lies.

In February of 2004, CounterSpin spoke with investigative journalist Robert Dreyfuss about pre-war intelligence on Iraq, and the role of a secret and largely unaccountable organization inside the Pentagon in manufacturing and publicizing it. Dreyfuss co-authored an article for Mother Jones on the matter called “The Lie Factory.” This is CounterSpin’s Steve Rendall in early 2004, speaking with journalist Robert Dreyfuss.

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Mother Jones: The Lie Factory

Graphic from “The Lie Factory” (Mother Jones, 1-2/04)

Steve Rendall: Robert, when David Kay announced that he didn’t think they’d find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he was adamant that the administration was misled by the CIA, and that intelligence was not shaped or distorted by the Bush administration. Much of the media discussion followed that same line, but your article suggests that there’s a lot more to the story. Tell us a little bit about what you found.

Robert Dreyfuss: Well, I think the most important thing is that while the CIA probably did not get very much right about Iraq, they were at least convinced, most of the intelligence agencies, that there was a lot of doubt, that there were a lot of things they didn’t know. The doubts got completely erased in the policymaking circles, and in particular the Pentagon—which set up its own little sort of rump intelligence unit called the Office of Special Plans under Douglas Feith at the Pentagon bureaucracy—not only was responsible for deleting these doubts, but they had some value added too.

They added in their own spin and their own intelligence, part of which came from Iraqi exiles, part of which came from their own staff, which was doing its own intelligence. And they created talking papers that ended up wildly exaggerating the threat that Iraq allegedly posed to both the United States and to its neighbors, and that information went directly to Vice President Cheney’s office and to the White House, and it led the administration in the direction of going to war, because that was a war they already wanted.

In other words, the idea that they were invading Iraq based on faulty intelligence has it exactly backwards. They had already decided they wanted to invade Iraq. So the intelligence was then used to justify a pre-existing policy.

And for Bush to argue, or anyone else to argue, that the administration went to war based on faulty intelligence is just plain silly. They would have gone to war in any case, but they were afraid to make the argument that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy and therefore, for reasons of national strategy, for reasons of oil, for reasons of Middle East policy and protecting Israel, for all these reasons, we’re going to invade Iraq. That probably wouldn’t have sold, either to the American public or to Congress, so instead they picked on this “Iraq is a threat” argument.

SR: So, Robert Dreyfuss, can I assume that the “lie factory” referred to in the title of your piece refers to this internal Pentagon Office of Special Plans?

RD: Yeah. It started right after 9/11, within a month of 9/11, they set this unit up. It wasn’t called the Office of Special Plans then; it had a different name. It went from being something like two or three people, and it expanded and brought in contractors and consultants, and eventually took the name Office of Special Plans, which incorporated this intelligence unit. That’s what became, basically, the war planning office at the Pentagon.

SR: And from what you report, they pushed out analysts that weren’t going along with the program to some degree.

RD: They really purged anybody who wasn’t part of the zealous team of missionaries that believed in the war. These people were forced into retirement, they were transferred to other offices, some of them just quit in disgust. And they brought in people, ironically, who were not intelligence experts, people who were ideologues but who were not particularly skilled at either intelligence collection or analysis.

So what they did is they took these piles and piles of information, the thousands of little data bits, and they picked out the ones that supported the case for going to war, and they discarded all the rest. And any intelligence conclusion is based on evaluating all of the information, a lot of which is going to be contradictory. Some of it’s based on forged documents, on lies, on misinformation, on just plain old honest human mistakes. So all of that information isn’t going to agree, and the job of an intelligence analyst or a professional is to look at it all and say, here’s my conclusion, and here’s the reasons why my conclusion isn’t a hundred percent, so I give this a certain percent validity.

Well, this office didn’t do that at all; they just basically said, we’re gung ho for war, and Iraq is an enormous threat to American national security. And all of the junk that we heard about unmanned aerial vehicles striking the United States, and Iraq building its nuclear program and importing WMD-related materials, all of that was a crock.

Karen Kwiatkowski

Karen Kwiatkowski

SR: In your reporting of this, you conducted a lot of interviews, and one that was particularly compelling was one you did with a certain former Air Force colonel. Tell us about that story briefly.

RD: Her name’s Karen Kwiatkowski. She was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, and she worked inside the Pentagon in the Near East/South Asian Affairs Office, which is where this Office of Special Plans took shape. And so she watched it all, week by week, taking shape, and she was horrified by it. She is a tremendously courageous whistleblower, in fact, because she’s a conservative, not someone who’s some sort of fuzzy-minded liberal. She was, however, shocked by what she calls the neoconservative cabal that was shaping the way this office operated. And, in particular, by the intervention of people like Dick Cheney’s staff director Lewis Libby and others, who were tasking or assigning jobs and missions to this unit, which is highly unusual. It’s an office that should work down deep in the bowels of the Pentagon, and here’s the vice president’s office operating on a day-to-day basis in touch with them.

SR: At this point it seems that some very good reporting has come out of mainstream media, particularly from the Washington Post. But some critics suggest the Post hasn’t pushed its reporting to the front page often enough. Even Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler wrote recently, “Make sure you read Page A17, or wherever the next piece of the puzzle appears.” What do you think of the priority the media has given to this story so far?

RD: Well, I think it has gotten somewhat lost for two reasons. One is it got lost because the aftermath of the war was so catastrophically bad, with an insurgency and a complete mess and a seemingly completely bumbled US administration over there, that that’s become the main story.

And then second, it’s sort of obvious that Bush and Cheney were saying WMD for months and months and months, and we got over there and they weren’t there. So what else can you say except, well, we didn’t find them and they were wrong? So I think they sort of lost the handle on how to investigate the wrongdoing.

I think the core of the problem is the media are unwilling to look at the government and say that there’s conscious malfeasance happening. They much prefer to say, this was a mistake, or this was just, you know, incompetence or conflict of interest, or all kind of other things that are more, I guess, easier to swallow than to say that someone was out there deliberately manufacturing evidence.

I mean, one of the most obvious cases is, no one has really investigated who forged those uranium documents. There’s no argument that those documents were deliberately forged by someone. It wasn’t a mistake. And finding out what we know about who forged them—and I believe that somebody in the intelligence system here knows—is something that reporters ought to be just leaping into, and I don’t see that too many people are even asking the question.

And there are other questions like that that I think have just been ignored, and in part because reporters follow the official investigations, and now there have been several efforts by the Republicans in Congress to intimidate investigations and say, well, there’s nothing there. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has pretty much said that point blank. So I think to the extent that the official investigations are turning into cover-ups, then I think the media is finding it difficult to get these more explosive charges onto the front page.

SR: You’ve appeared on CounterSpin before, discussing Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi and his unreliability. A recent Knight Ridder story points out that in spite of the fact that defectors and witnesses put forth by Chalabi’s INC “exaggerated what they knew, fabricated tales, or were coached by others what to say,” the US intends to continue funding the INC’s intelligence-gathering. The Knight Ridder story hasn’t received much attention in other media now. What are your thoughts on this part of the story? Bear in mind that we only have a few seconds left, Robert.

RD: Well, we’re not just funding them, we’re supporting him to become the next president of Iraq! I mean, here’s a guy who is a long-term historic crook and bank-embezzler; now we know he’s also a liar about intelligence, and [we’re] depending on and still supporting him to become the leader of the nation, never mind a couple million dollars to fund his organization. So I continue to be stunned and amazed that Chalabi has any credibility whatsoever with anyone, although apparently he’s been quite a valuable source for Judy Miller at the New York Times over the years. So I guess he’s got some friends in the media himself.

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Janine Jackson: That was Robert Dreyfuss speaking with CounterSpin’s Steve Rendall. The article “The Lie Factory,” by Dreyfuss and Jason Vest, can still be found on MotherJones.com.

 

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This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission from FAIR.